Game of Skins: Summer Olympians and their magazine bodies

Published On July 25, 2012 | By Alice Cook

Michael Phelps is one of the athletes featured in Sports Illustrated. (Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE)

A big difference between the Summer Olympic Games and the Winter Olympic Games is the “skin factor.”  Winter Olympians (aside from the figure skaters) are wrapped from head to toe in lightweight synthetic fabrics designed for warmth and performance. It is quite the opposite for the summer athletes, who compete in everything from bikinis (beach volleyball) to full armor (fencing).

These summer athletes have graced the covers of many a magazine over the last few weeks, giving us a preview of the amazing physiques we will see throughout the Games.

If you are like me, you probably checked out ESPN: The Body Issue (July 23, 2012). It is ESPN’s fourth annual “celebration of the athletic form.”

You can say that again.

I’ll admit it. I like a good body. Whether its on a diving platform, a starting block or balance beam. When I say “good body”, I mean an athletic body; not the skin-and-bones super model or actress type.

Over the weekend I found myself at the beach with both The Body Issue and Sports Illustrated’s Olympic preview issue (July 23, 2012).  There I am with my tuna sandwich and Cape Cod potato chips, marveling at some of the most magnificent physiques I’ve ever seen. The photographs were enough to make me throw my lunch to the sea gulls and burst into a  five-mile barefoot beach run.

The ESPN photos are what I would classify as “classy nude.” They show the athletic body as an art form. From 7-foot-1 Knicks center Tyson Chandler to 5-foot-4 sprinter Carmelita Jeter, the bodies clearly define the sport they belong to.

Seven members of the U.S. Women’s Olympic volleyball team bared all for silhouetted action shots and a team photo sitting on a bench. Their arms and long hair are arranged to cover their breasts. Seven pairs of long and lean legs are crossed right over left right on down the line.

Like a lot of people I have some mixed feelings about the premise of the Body Issue, although there is no denying that the shots that capture these athletes in motion are spectacular.

The athletes themselves have interesting takes on their own body image and the reasons why they accepted the invitation to pose nude. Here is what  a few of them had to say:

“Female athletes are getting very, very thin, but I’m a bigger woman- I have bigger muscles, and that’s okay,” said Abby Wambach of the U.S Women’s National Soccer Team

“People made fun of my arms and called me ‘Miss Man.’  It wasn’t until I got older that I realized: These people are idiots. I’m fabulous,” said Ronda Rousey, a women’s bantam-weight champion

“On most hockey players, especially the good ones, you see big legs and big butts.  Everything you want to do comes from that area- shooting, taking a hit, protecting the puck and beating people with your speed,” said Brad Richards, a center for the New York Rangers

Big legs, big butts … sounds like a figure skater to me.

Along the same lines of these Olympic athletes in magazines, this week’s cover of Sport’s Illustrated featured the five women of the U.S. Women’s gymnastics team.  It’s the first time since 1996 (when Olympic hero Kerry Strug was featured) that the magazine has featured a gymnast on it’s cover.

Looking at these gymnasts in their red leotards, you can’t help but notice that they all have extremely similar body types. They are small and powerful, equal to 90 pounds of human dynamite. They have shoulders like swimmers and quads like sprinters. Inch for inch, these athletic lilliputians are every bit as powerful as a weightlifter or a shot putter.

The Sports Illustrated issue also has a feature story on the rivalry between U.S. swimming teammates Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Thank goodness the full body neoprene suits have been banned. Now we can fully appreciate the long, lean muscles of the two best swimmers in the world.

Over the next few weeks we will watch and admire great athletes with incredible bodies competing in the Summer Games. We’ve seen some of  them already with their clothes off. Personally I prefer seeing them with their competition clothes on.

As a friend said to me that day on the beach, “it leaves more to the imagination.”


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About The Author

is a veteran television sports reporter and Olympian. Her experience includes 25 years of sports reporting for WBZ-TV, the CBS and former NBC affiliate in Boston. Cook has worked for ESPN, Turner Sports, and WTBS. Cook is a feature writer for She's Game Sports and She is also President and Founder of She's Game Sports LLC.